College in America has been over-glamorized, and the effects have been damaging to the country. Consider two issues we currently face:
• Millions of kids, fresh out of university, are jobless and deep in debt with student loans, kind of like me.
• Our country is in debt as well, mostly to China, a powerhouse nation whose low-paid workers mass produce the products we import and consume.
They discussed how college rose to prominence and became the main societal indicator of success while physical skills jobs, like construction and agriculture, became careers left to the uneducated.
A strong PR campaign
College, according to Rowe, got a strong PR campaign about 30 or 40 years ago. Like any campaign, it went too far, to the point that college now represents the assumed starting point for anyone aspiring to a successful life. Rowe asks that we consider the term "alternative" as it relates to education:
"Anything that's not a four-year degree has become alternative. Once upon a time, alternative meant another way to get to the place you'd like to wind up. But now, if you think about the way the word is used, the alternative is the basketball player that sits on the bench and waits for the starter to break his ankle. It's the understudy in the wings, waiting for the lead to go hoarse. It's the loser."
We've promoted the college path at the expense of all other accumulated knowledge. By making the university the benchmark, trade jobs vital to our survival have been reduced to "vocational consolation prizes," and now we're either forgetting how to do those jobs, or they're being shipped overseas.
"The whole thing is so fundamentally self-defeating and counter-intuitive," Rowe says. "And people scratch their head and go, God, how is it that we have rising unemployment and a widening skills gap? Well, c'mon. It's because every time you see a plumber on TV, he's 300 pounds with a giant butt crack. He's the brunt of the joke. He's the punch line. He's not the solution."
"Yeah," Carolla says. "It's like, Go to college or your going to end up being a pipe fitter."
"They're paying $27 an hour for pipe fitters in Alabama right now," Rowe says. "And $29 for welders."
I am not suggesting that I'd jump at a chance to trade my college degree for a pipe-fitting job in Alabama, believe me. But it is worth pointing out that I make half of the aforementioned wage and I'm about $80,000 in debt, both of which are burdensome. Also, my perception of pipe fitting has admittedly, I'm sure, been shaped somewhat by Hollywood's butt-crack imagery.
Best days behind us?
America has grown accustomed to continuous improvement from one generation to the next, Carolla says, with each one living a slightly more privileged life than the last. Could it be that the days of steady generational progress are behind us?
"For the first time ever," he says. "People are going to start thinking: Maybe I'm not going to do better than my dad."
But Rowe insists we've simply reached a point where we need to redefine "better."
"If you're not going to celebrate the kind of things you ultimately need, you're going to end up with precisely what you deserve. Mathematically, your kids can't have it better than you did and so on and so on and so on. It just doesn't play out at all. So, rather than scratching your head over the algorithm, why not just step back and say, We're all screwed up as to what better means."
The college loan situation in America is a total mess, and so is the unemployment situation. As a country, it's a perfect time to start celebrating the kinds of jobs we need.